Get a sneak-peek into the exciting upcoming crime thriller by S A Tameez
Scroll down to read the first 4 chapters of Perfect Little Lies. The book is due to be released later this year.
The town was quiet – people roamed like zombies – eyes glued to screens; earphones plugged into ears – oblivious to the world around them.
See no evil – hear no evil.
It was easy to be invisible. No one was watching – no one was listening – except me.
I sat in Starbucks, a few tables away. Like a lousy cliché, I hid behind a pair of large sunglasses and last week’s newspaper. I watched as she sipped her white chocolate mocha. Her golden ponytail waddled as she spoke to the boy opposite her. Animated. Unable to wipe the childish grin from her face. Her dimples, which usually only appeared when she smiled widely, were frozen on her cheeks.
Who was he? I speculated.
I didn’t like him. Not because he was sitting with her – I didn’t like his kind. Tall and athletic; all the looks, no personality, no brain.
A pretty boy.
She liked him. She made it obvious.
It wasn’t fair that people like him got everything.
And it was damn unfair that people like her went around breaking hearts.
She had to be stopped.
I had to stop her.
And for more reasons than one.
Startled — Nick glanced at the traffic lights. They had been green long enough to irritate the driver behind. He was usually the one who impatiently horned to wake the driver in front. But not today. Today was different. Today, he wouldn’t mind if the world just stopped spinning.
“You OK?” Stacey asked. More an accusation than a question. She searched his face for the truth. A moment longer and she would infiltrate the walls and find it. He couldn’t allow that, he was prepared to say anything other than the truth.
Truth, whole truth, and nothing but lies.
Because lying and not telling the truth were completely different.
“Yeah, fine,” Nick replied without facing her in case his eyes betrayed him.
“It’s just… you haven’t said a word the entire way.” A deafening silence filled the car. “You are still excited about everything, right?”
“What?” He coughed lightly, “Course,” He felt a lump spawned by guilt and nerves in his throat.
“Good! Because I’m going to need you now.” This was a demand, criticism, and question all in one. A simple statement to an outsider but in actuality, a complex, encrypted message. Decrypted, it meant – you better be there! You have not been there for me so far! You will be there, right?
“I know, honey. I’m right here.” Nick gave the default response.
“You’re miles away.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just work and…”
“Well,’ He paused. He reminded himself that he didn’t have to say anything. Under no duress. He had the right to remain silent – especially regarding his feelings and thoughts. He had exercised those rights for a while now and was the better for it.
“I’m nervous.” The words sprayed out like water from a burst pipe. He didn’t even realise he confessed until it was too late. He didn’t want to admit, even to himself, that he was anxious, afraid even. But his brain had gone into autopilot. And this was not good for anyone. He had to regain control – stop himself from saying something he would later regret. The truth.
Stacey’s smile cut through the tension like a knife.
“Me too,” she said with relief in her voice. It was as if she knew Nick was panicking all along but needed him to admit it. “But you need to keep it together.”
“I know,” he replied like a schoolboy being told off, “I’m sorry.”
“And stop apologising.”
“Jesus, Nick,” she laughed. “We’re going for a scan, not a murder trial!” She stared out of the window and shook her head.
How could he possibly tell her he’d be less nervous at a murder trial? He couldn’t. She wouldn’t understand, and even if she did, it would just complicate things. The last thing he needed right now was complications.
“I know… and I am excited.” He turned the heating down – sweat formed above his lip. He wiped it quickly, accidently scratching himself with his watch but tried not to wince.
“OK, good.” She rubbed her bump. “Now drive a little faster, we might get a parking ticket.”
She was good under pressure and often found the comedy in tragedy. A quality Nick both liked and loathed. She was brilliantly funny, but her timing was usually off.
He was no stranger to pressure. He was a Detective Sergeant in the MET. DS Nick Bailey, he would proudly introduce himself if anyone asked. From young, Nick longed to be a copper. His father was a PC and had been exactly that for 30 years. He loved it and never planned to move up ranks. Nick’s mother would nag him for not being ambitious, but Nick knew that wasn’t true. His father was a proud bobby on the beat.
“PCs do the groundwork.” He’d say to Nick whenever they spoke about his job. “I couldn’t sit behind a desk in the ‘Brains Department’ all day like those big-bellied bureaucrats. No, I belong out there, on the front line.”
He admired father for that; he knew what he wanted and held his guns. Nick wanted to be just like him – he religiously wore his father’s helmet while scoffing his cereal every morning. When Nick did eventually join the force, the thrill of solving crimes intrigued him far more than patrolling the streets in uniform. The helmet had lost its appeal.
His palms were moist as they approached the hospital. He secretly hoped lack of parking would force him to drop her off at the front and let her go in alone.
There was plenty of parking.
He despised his selfish thoughts.
Time changed according to circumstances – staring at other people flicking through outdated magazines in the waiting room until the overworked and demotivated nurse called your name felt like days. Then waiting for the scanning equipment to be set up and nervously anticipating the midwife’s verdict would feel like forever. Whereas, if he inconsiderately waited in the car, he could read a book or listen to the radio, and it would feel like minutes before Stacey waddled back with the results. A cowardly yet appealing alternative.
He tried not to sigh when he saw the empty parking bay next to the entrance – how bitterly convenient.
The waiting room was how he had imagined it. Murky carpets with faint stains and scattered wooden chairs. An aroma of damp wood combined with strong disinfectant.
Most of the chairs were occupied. A quick scan of the room. A young couple sat in the corner facing away from each other as if they had just had a row. A man in a white shirt sat close by bashing away at his laptop and cursing under his breath. An elderly couple with eyes half open and young boy that looked mischievously at the water dispenser.
The automatic door let in a refreshing breeze but only opened twice in the 30 minutes they waited until Stacey’s name was called.
“Follow me.” The chubby nurse said as she dragged her feet along the corridor. Her tone and body language suggested she didn’t want to be there. No eye contact and no attempt to smile. They were simply a name on the clipboard, and her purpose was to ensure the name got to the designated room. Anything above that was clearly not her remit.
Stacey locked her fingers through Nick’s and squeezed his hand. It felt natural, as if they were designed to fit. Nick pressed back and as if like a secret combination, it unlocked a smile. They smirked at each other like naughty school children. It had been a while since they had spent any “real” time together. Stacey had continued to teach up until the eighth month of the pregnancy despite having some complications in the first trimester, and Nick had been bogged down with case after case, or so he told himself. Late nights and early starts almost every day. No morning jogs, date nights or sitting on the couch and reading together for the past several months. Two people who shared a house, shared a mortgage and bills but lived separate lives.
The strange split-second moment of staring into each other’s eyes and holding hands ignited something deep inside him, something he thought had gone forever. Nights of creeping into the house, hoping she would be asleep so he could look through casework, now seemed like wasted prospects. Openings to be happy. But life was a difficult juggling act. Not easy to sit in front of the box pretending to care about what happened to Ian from EastEnders after working on a homicide case all day. The faces of victims, the list of suspects and the niggling feeling that you missed something important – something right under your nose. The real world was much more twisted than the shows Stacey watched.
The nurse banged her knuckles on the door twice and then opened it. A bright room with dazzling white walls surrounded by complex looking machines. A blond-haired lady, who Nick assumed was the midwife, swivelled her chair and greeted them with a smile. She was thin and wore red lipstick and didn’t look a day over 35. For reasons he couldn’t explain, he expected her to be an old overweight woman with cloud-like hair and an empathetic smile. Served him right for not attending any of the previous scans. He wasn’t getting nominated for the husband of the year award that was for sure.
His phone vibrated in his pocket as Stacey lay down on the bed. He knew it was the station. He had been working on finding a missing girl for a week, and there were no solid leads. Harold was on his back about the investigation. This was the kind of pressure he was used to.
He wanted to take the call – he needed to take the call. He glanced at Stacey as she lay on the bed and the midwife pasted gel on her bump. Her face was glowing, and their fingers still intertwined. He couldn’t ruin this for her – for them. He wasn’t part of the pregnancy; this was her thing and he was merely a chaperone. A terrible chaperone. Torn between being a husband and a detective – now it would be a three-way tear. Impossible.
The phone wasn’t stopping. It was an important case, but which one wasn’t? One important case would finish another would start – each feeling more important than the previous – a never-ending cycle of misery. There would always be a case he needed to attend to, but would there be many more moments like this? Being here for his other half – better half – sharing the excitement, sharing the joy?
He used his other hand to reach into his pocket and caressed his way to the volume button. He pressed it, and the buzzing stopped. A difficult choice as the case was going nowhere and had received a lot of press attention. He had to keep reminding himself that it was work and this, he stared at Stacey, was life. They both had their places and their rights. Unlocking his fingers, letting go of her hand might mean letting go of her for good. He didn’t want that. She meant more to him than anything else.
He smiled when their eyes met, but her smile faded. It was as if she had intercepted his thoughts or his eyes betrayed him and told her everything. Informed her that he was here but not entirely. She had him but not all of him.
The phone vibrated again, this time the room was silent. Stacey’s expression indicated she heard it.
“Sorry,” Nick whispered and rummaged in his pocket to silence it again.
“Don’t be,” Stacey said. “It’s probably work. Shouldn’t you take it?”
“No. I don’t want to take the call right now,” he lied. All he wanted to do was take that call.
Stacey squeezed his hand a little harder, and her smile resurfaced, “I know how important your job is, and besides, the baby is fine. Look.” She gestured to the monitor that showed a disproportionate head and body and two little legs kicking. Nick’s eyes remained glued to the screen. That was the first time he laid eyes on their little boy. Guilt took the form of a fist and punched him hard in the gut. He simultaneously felt hungry and sick.
His phone vibrated again.
“Take the call!” The midwife commanded without looking away from her computer screen. Stacey and the midwife chuckled and then began talking among themselves. Although it felt sinful, he slipped his hand out of Stacey’s and crept towards the door without looking back.
“Nick Bailey,” he answered quietly, ignoring the ‘no phones’ symbol on the wall next to him.
“Nick, where have you been?!” the voice on the other end demanded.
“A couple of joggers discovered a body in Southbank.”
“When?” Adrenaline coursed through his veins. It didn’t matter how many times he heard about a body being found, he never got used that sinking feeling. And in that split second a million thoughts flashed through his mind; who did they find? A man? A woman? A child? He didn’t know which was worse. If there was a worse. A life was a life and a life lost was life lost.
“An hour ago. A young, IC1 female. Blond, 5’7. She fits the description of Sarah Fowler.”
Nick’s heart dropped to his ankles. His chest tightened. He had so desperately hoped to find Sarah alive – wished she had run away to prove a point or make a statement, though his instincts and experience had already told him otherwise. No one ran away without taking anything. She vanished without a trace. If this was Sarah, he had failed.
“I need you to get down there now. I’ve sent you a text with the location.”
Nick peered back towards the door behind which his future lay. He sighed silently and rested the phone on his forehead. How could he tell Stacey he needed to rush off the first time he showed the slightest interest in her and their baby? He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. This was his time to shine as a husband and as a soon to be father. He needed to tell Harold that this was his day off and he was not a detective today. Today he was a husband, a family man.
“Nick?” He could hear DCI Harold Bishop’s voice from the phone’s speaker.
He put it back to his ear, “Sir,”
“Well, are you on your way?”
He paused, “Yes, on route,” he said robotically. Defeated in his fight against himself. Proving that he already prioritised his job over his family.
He put the phone back into his pocket and rested his forehead on the door. Only if there was a pause button. Better yet, rewind. He felt like a drug addict moments before relapse. He thought of the brief hand in hand encounter he had just had with his wife and then the expression she would have when he told her that she wasn’t important enough for him to hang around.
He took a few deep breaths and pushed the door open.
“There you are. Thought you might have run away.” Stacey said, now standing. “We’re all done.”
He hadn’t seen her this happy in months. It was wrong, he should be sharing that smile, sharing the delight, but instead, he was drowning in guilt. Guilt for failing to be there for her and guilt for not finding Sarah Fowler in time.
Stacey looked in his eyes; he was now convinced she could read his mind.
“Thank you,” she said to the midwife who returned the smile, and they left the room.
“What’s wrong?” Stacey asked as they walked through the corridor towards the exit.
“They’ve found a body.” Nick said. He knew he shouldn’t be telling her that but told her anyway. Perhaps he told her so she could sympathise with his emotional neglect for her. Or perhaps it was so she felt guilty and told him to go.
“Oh my God!” she said and then moved closer and lowered her voice, “Do they know who it is?”
“No. A young girl.” He dared not say her name. Less painful to say, ‘a girl’ or ‘a man’ or better yet, ‘a body’. The less human, the better. A feeble attempt at desensitisation.
“The girl that went missing?” Her eyes opened wider. A cold breeze rippled through him.
“You know about the missing girl?” He still couldn’t bring himself to say her name in the fear that if he did, her spirit would be summoned and question why he didn’t find her in time.
“Of course. People have been talking about it, and it’s in the papers,” she spoke fast without taking a breath. “But her mother was adamant she ran away, that’s why she did that appeal asking her to return home. They had some argument. She stormed out and didn’t come back.”
“Wow. You have been keeping up to date with things.”
“Well, I’m not just a pretty face!” She grabbed Nick’s hand and placed it on her bump, “Besides, we have to think about how to handle young ones now.” The butterflies returned. He forced a smile.
“But that poor girl,” she continued, “If it is her, that is. I hope it isn’t.”
Stacey looked up at Nick. “You need to go and deal with this.” Music to his ears. The words he had longed for. So much easier to fight to stay and lose then to fight to go and win.
“No. I… took the day off to come to the scan and… we were supposed to spend the rest of the day together. No, I’m not going anywhere!” he said with such conviction that he almost had himself fooled.
“Thank you for coming. It means a lot to me; it really does, but I know how important your job is. You need to go, and we’ll catch up later.”
He shook his head and made a face he hoped portrayed disappointment.
Deceptive. Like a man having an affair, consumed by guilt but unable to stop himself. Torn between the one he loved and the one he was in love with.
He didn’t deserve her. She was sincere, truthful – even if it landed her in trouble. Brave. But most of all, understanding.
He wondered why he found it so hard to tell her the truth about his past.
First day back after the holidays was always hard. Not the waking up early or the long trek to UCL as much as getting back into work mode and seeing familiar faces. Sarah was a student at the University College of London who had grown tired of explaining whether it was a University or a College. Her uncle Mickey never understood it.
“So, it’s called a University and a College?” Unsure whether he was teasing her or whether he was genuinely confused.
He never went to University or College – dropped out at 15 and claimed it was the best thing he ever did. Started work in a car wash which led to his fascination with cars. Then moved into car trading and now had two offices and enough yard space to store 150 cars. He earned more than Sarah’s father, who was a doctor. And although her father hated to admit it, Uncle Mickey was right – dropping out was the best thing he ever did.
The majority of students on her course lived on campus. Sarah lived close enough to commute but far enough for it to be an inconvenience. She didn’t mind the underground – it was an opportunity to catch up on notes on her Psychology degree. That’s what she told herself anyway – really, the time was spent reading a Peter James or Clare Mackintosh novel.
“Sarah. Hi.” A voice emerged from behind her.
“Hey,” Sarah said as she turned to face her best friend, Melisa “Nice hair,”
“You like it?” she ran her fingers through it while making a face as if she had just tasted something sour.
“It suits you.”
“You think? Mum hates it. She said she couldn’t believe I spent so much money getting this sizzling look.” She stroked Sarah’s straight blond hair and shook her head. “You’re so lucky you don’t have afro hair. I mean, not wrestling with your hair in the morning sounds heavenly – I wake up looking like I’m wearing a motorbike helmet.” They both chuckled.
“Well, I think it looks lovely – it’s got character, unlike my plain-Jane look. Besides, this is not how it looks in the morning – I wake up looking the living dead!” They both laughed.
“Can I get you something?” Sarah pointed to the vending machine in the empty campus cafeteria.
“No thanks,” Melisa raised the two Costa takeaway cups, “I much prefer real coffee.”
Sarah pushed the cafeteria cup away, screwed up her face and swallowed the bitter taste in her mouth, “Come to think of it, so do I.” She stood up and grabbed her bag.
“White Chocolate Mocha…” Malisa said, “Shaken but not stirred,” she continued in the worst Sean Connery impression Sarah had ever heard.
“Thank you!” Sarah closed her eyes and inhaled through her widening nostrils. “You’re a lifesaver!”
“The Mocha or me?” Malisa asked.
“Both!” Sarah smiled.
The place was quieter than usual. People struggled to get in first day back.
“How did you know I was in the cafeteria?”
“I didn’t actually,” Melisa sipped her coffee, “I was walking, enthusiastically might I add, to the morning seminar with Dr Boring Monotone and I saw the back of your head – I knew it was you.
“I don’t know, perhaps the long silky hair or the way you sit; I’m not sure exactly, but I just knew.”
“Maybe you have superpowers?” Sarah smirked.
“Yeah. I could be like the new Black Panther-ess.” They giggled. She could pull off a superhero character in a movie. She had the height, was a black belt in Taekwondo and went to the gym every day. The closest Sarah ever got to the gym was the induction, and the next 12 months were solid excuses for why she couldn’t go.
“So, how were the holidays?” Melisa asked as they hurried to the morning seminar.
“What holidays?” Sarah rolled her eyes, “Revision! And don’t get me started on the dissertation.”
“Tell me about it. Sucks to be in the final year!”
Sarah’s mind travelled back to the first year. It was a breeze in comparison and a drastic change from sixth-form, where she was treated like a child and didn’t make any ‘good’ friends. She often found herself in trouble. Her mother was adamant; Sarah took drugs and would inevitably end up in jail. But unlike her old friends, and aside from a small amount of cannabis, she never experimented with drugs or drank alcohol.
Things changed when she got accepted for UCL. Though she didn’t like to admit it, her mother was right about her old friends.
Her new friends, Melisa, Jane and Talisha, were sensible and responsible. Both Jane and Talisha worked in a clothing retailer in the city to contribute towards tuition fees and living expenditure. Melisa’s father was a wealthy property developer, so she never worried about money. She insisted on paying for everything – snap out her plastic and swipe before anyone else had the chance.
Technically, they should have hated her for always insisting to pay or for being so damn wealthy, but for broke students, it was a blessing. They went to posh restaurants, got premium seats in the cinema, even spent a few nights in Paris. And Melisa never acted superior – she usually did the opposite. Praised and pointed out things she admired about everyone. How beautiful Sarah was, how Jane and Talisha had great style and fashion sense, and how much she appreciated great friends. Melisa was the dictionary definition of a ‘good’ friend.
The lecture hall was half empty. Sarah and Melisa sat at the back and hoped Dr Murphy wouldn’t turn up. Not that he ever missed a day; even when sick, he would repetitively sneeze and blow his nose but get through the lecture. Sarah admired his tenacity and wondered if she would ever be as dedicated to anything in her life. She regretted picking Psychology and wished she had pursued something more creative. Being a writer would have suited her as she loved reading. Although the appeal truly lay in the thought of working in isolation and living like a recluse.
But you live and learn. Last year of the course – ride it out, get the qualification and then work things out after that. That was the plan. Take a year out – lie to everyone about an exciting backpacking adventure and hide. Create an action plan for how to recover from the train wreck she called life.
“Don’t look now,” Melisa said as she peered towards the door. “It’s the Freak!”
“Don’t call him that!” Sarah said as Norman walked into the lecture hall. He wore his signature faded blue hoody and black skinny jeans.
“He’s so weird,” Melisa remarked.
“He’s not weird.”
“He’s super weird, and he keeps staring at you. I see him all the time.”
“No, he doesn’t,” Sarah pretended she never noticed him staring at her.
“Yeah, he does, but I think you probably like the weirdos, don’t you?”
“Well, I am friends with you.”
“Ouch!” She slapped Sarah playfully on the arm, “No, but seriously, look – he’s doing it again – he’s looking right at you.”
Sarah glanced over; hoody still hung over his head and slumped deep into his chair as if that was still considered ‘cool’. Every few moments, he looked over but immediately looked away when they made eye contact.
Norman sat alone wherever he was; lecture hall, library, SU, wherever. Didn’t make conversation with anyone and always wore the same attire. She imagined him as the kid everyone picked on in school – nicknamed ‘Tramp’ or something horrid. It was the kind of thing that happened in school – she hated it, but if you stood up for kids like Norman, the nasty kids went for you too. It wasn’t right and wasn’t fair, but it was what it was. And in a way, it prepared you for what was about to come. Adults were no different – the bullying didn’t stop – it just changed form. You only had to look around you to see it. Behind the TV smiles and forced pleasantries, were angry, frustrated people who were ready to pounce on one another – it was just a matter of time. And if you were observant you could see the signs – handsome man in the suit on the 9am tube this morning; all smiles, said good morning to everyone and gave his seat up at the drop of a hat. But look closer and you see the cracks in the veneer. The swollen and cut knuckles he tried to hide under his newspaper, the faint scratches peering over the collar of his shirt. And that look of resentment every time he caught sight of his wedding ring. Our masks can only cover so much.
Dr Murphy burst in through the doors at precisely nine. His hair was a mess, and he gasped as he got to the front of the hall. His usually pale face had darkened – must have gone away for the holidays and caught some sunshine.
“Morning everyone,” he said, “Hope you all had a nice break.” He scanned the half-deserted hall, “Seems like some of you are still on a break… but for the rest of you, I have an exciting lesson planned.” A few laughs and anonymous sarcastic comments emerged. “Settle down,” he said, “I’ll need a few minutes to get this stupid projector sorted, so you guys have a few moments to catch up with one another. But no—” Sarah’s phone suddenly sounded with a loud message alert as if on cue. “Phones! You all know the rules – no noisy devices in my class. Silence them or better yet, switch them off.”
Sarah removed her phone and stared at the screen.
“If it’s Jane or Talisha, tell them we’ll sign them in for the lecture but don’t bail on our get-together later!”
It was as if Melisa had intercepted the text.
Me & T not comin 2day. Sign us in. C u later. #get2gether. X
Sarah could feel the gaze from across the room as she typed a response. Though it was dark, the glow from the phone’s screen lit her face. She could see nothing. The screen had temporarily blinded her. By the time she regained her vision, Norman’s seat was empty.
“He’s gone,” Sarah said.
“Who? Melisa replied without looking away from her phone.
Sarah eyes scanned the hall, “Never mind.”
“There’s a new Marvel movie coming out – you wanna go watch it?”
“Great, I’ve booked our tickets for Friday.”
“Already? How did you know I was going to say yes?”
“I wasn’t going to give you a choice.”
“Thought as much.”
“What about the others?”
“How’d you know?”
She faced Sarah with eyebrows raised, “It’s a Marvel movie – they’re coming!”
The day dragged on. Melisa wanted a Subway six-inch Chicken Tikka, but Sarah passed. She wasn’t hungry nor in the mood to go anywhere – drained. Her legs were murdering her, and her body was abnormally cold – feeling unusually cold meant coming down with something. She couldn’t afford to get ill – too much work to catch up on.
In the library. Meet me here when u r done. X
She texted Melisa then sunk into the large wooden chair in the library’s study area. It was silent. No one in sight except the librarian sat at her desk; eyes glued to her computer screen. On a typical day, there would be footsteps, papers shuffling, keyboards bashing, faint whispers and the odd message tone, but not today. It was as if everyone had vanished and Sarah and the Librarian were the only people who remained on earth.
The radiator near her legs was comforting. Sarah put the MacBook Melisa bought her on the desk. She was paying her back for it in monthly instalments. And although three months arrears, Melisa had not said a word – this made Sarah feel even worse. Perhaps if Melisa had enquired about the arrears, Sarah wouldn’t have bought a pile of novels and the new coat she picked up last week.
She sighed as she searched Google for the notes on her latest assignment. Due in two days, she kicked herself for not starting it earlier. Her eyes stung, and the screen was making it worse. Better to print the assignment she had found on a nerdy forum with the same title as her assignment – the one she intended to copy. Why reinvent the wheel? She said to herself. Plagiarism was a thing of the past – it was the digital age where, if you can get away with it, it’s all good. She found solace in knowing most people would never walk into a shop and steal a DVD, but they would not hesitate in watching a movie on an illegal streaming site. Digital age. The rules were still being written.
Elsa, the Librarian, walked over to her table.
“Did you just try to print something?” She asked. Sarah’s heart sped faster. Why would she ask that? Had she nosily looked at what was in print and figured it was a random person’s work?
“Erm… yes.” Sarah said, reluctantly.
“Sorry, it seems to have jammed. It’s been playing up all day. Do you mind waiting while I go to the I.T. room; they’re not answering the phone. I will get Jerry to have a look at it.”
“Sure.” Sarah smiled. Great, more people involved in her unethical printing.
“Shan’t be long.” She said and walked towards the exit.
Sarah sighed, rested her elbows on the desk and buried her face in her palms. She closed her eyes and hoped the ascending headache was just in her imagination.
After a few moments of nearly drifting off, her eyes snapped open. She could have sworn she heard a noise. That familiar feeling of eyes watching her returned. She tried to reassure herself it was in her head, but then she heard the shuffling sound again. The library was empty; she knew that. She would have heard the loud doors opening and felt the draft had someone come in.
She was alone – or that’s what she had assumed.
She peered back at the desk – Elsa had still not returned. And the feeling of being watched was not fading. The library wasn’t huge but there were plenty of places to hide — rows of tall bookcases, a few rooms, an office. Her mind told her she was paranoid, but her instinct told her something different.
Nick had missed the Golden Hour. Reporters being pushed back by a few uniforms like hooligans at a football match. It might be an idea to give reporters a Police badge as their response time was much better than the emergency services. Like vultures, they crowded the area, cameras flashing and repeating the same questions to get a headline. Like bloodthirsty animals attacking what remained of the poor dead girl in the distance. Now merely a means for the papers to make money — her body, a spectacle — her blood, a currency — her name, a measly formality.
It wasn’t the first time he was going to see a dead body and certainly wasn’t going to be the last. He knew behind the crime scene tape, in the cordoned-off area, lay the lifeless body of someone’s daughter. Maybe someone’s sister, wife, mother. Immediately, he thought of Stacey. Bile travelled up to his throat. As a DS and having witnessed the ugliest things in life, he was suspicious and paranoid about everything and everyone. Stacey was the opposite – she saw the good in everything and everyone. It often made him wonder why they were even together – opposites attract.
She trusted everyone and believed almost everything she was told. She would walk at night with her headphones plugged in and assume no one would be lurking in the shadows, watching her as she hummed along to the tracks on her playlist – now deaf and blind. To her, someone murdered or raped belonged in movies or novels, not in real life.
He thought of all the times he gave peoples’ loved one’s news that their world was about to fall apart. Telling someone that a person they love was murdered was very different from telling them they died in a car accident. After the shock came grief and after grief came anger and, in most cases, after anger, came revenge. Not justice but cold-blooded revenge. Most of the recent murder cases were related to Postcode Gangs. Senselessly killing over geographical location. Young boys who didn’t understand the value of a person’s life or how it felt to spend 25 long years in prison.
Knife crime was a volcano erupting all over the streets of London. No one knew how it got so out of control or how to diminish its ferocious flames – certainly not some posh, potbellied MP in a thousand-pound suit. The only thing they ever got creative with was explaining their expenses.
A dead girl washed up in the Thames, however, was not the mark of a gang crime – this was usually the signature of a sicko. And the last thing London needed was another sicko.
Forensics, or SOCO’s as they were referred to, had finished taking all they could from the scene – photos, prints, swabs and whatever else they could get before it got destroyed.
A white sheet was placed over the girl’s body. DC Zoe Hall was already at the scene. As Nick knew she would be. She was young and worked more hours than there were in the day. And contrary to the popular opinion of the rest of the department, she was the kind of person you both wanted and needed on your team. She wore blue plastic gloves and was crouched over the body as Nick approached, with his footwear protectors securely on. He knew how delicate evidence was in a crime scene. One wrong foot and you can add days on the investigation, or get it thrown out entirely.
Bureaucracy gone mad.
“Have they identified her yet?” he asked before he looked at the face of the victim.
“No,” Zoe responded, “forensics have taken the prints and DNA samples. We’re just waiting for transportation. We’ll know more after the post-mortem.” She tried to sound as professional as she could, but it was obvious she was finding it hard – he could sense the shakiness deep in her voice. Who would blame her? It’s not what you want to deal with on a Monday morning. It’s not what you want to deal with any morning. She hadn’t been exposed to even half as many dead bodies as Nick, and yet he felt reluctant to uncover the face of the victim.
“Let’s take a look,” he said and removed a pair of gloves from his coat pocket.
“You might want to brace yourself,” she warned. He appreciated the warning and took a deep breath. When uncovering a body, he reminded himself that it’s easier if you don’t think about them as people at all. The way a butcher doesn’t think of the meat he is slicing and dicing as once being alive.
This never helped.
Certainly didn’t help on this occasion.
As he lifted the sheet, nausea overcame him. His brain refused to translate what his eyes transmitted. The pale and bloated face of a young girl was heart-wrenching. Her green eyes were like a frozen lake. Her blood-stained blond hair stuck to the sides of her cheeks. The right side of her skull caved in. Dark blue lips, and neck black with bruises. It was impossible to recognise her – she barely looked human.
Who would do this? Something so evil.
“Anything obvious?” he asked with his eyes glued on the victim. He needed to continue as normal. This was a job and like any other job, he had to press forward and do what he was paid to do. He couldn’t curse at the top of his lungs. Punch the closest thing to him or tell anyone how hard he was finding this.
“Seems like trauma to the head. Her body has some bruising, but,” she paused and had that look that told him that she was about to tell him something he didn’t want to hear. Please don’t say she was raped. That would be enough to make the bile building up erupt out of his mouth. She was just a girl and he couldn’t stomach the thought of her going through something like that before being brutally murdered.
“You need to take a look at this,” Zoe gently lifted the victim’s arm. He sighed in relief. Nothing could be worse than what he had just thought.
The victim’s hand was covered in a see-through plastic bag to preserve evidence. Nick craned his neck to get a better look. For a moment, he felt as if he imagined the small sailboat carved into the back of the victim’s hand. A chill coursed through him. His eyes were lying to him – they had to be.
“Surely it can’t be—”
“The Sailor.” A voice emerged from behind them. Nick didn’t need to look back to know who was stood behind him.
“It’s been over two years since we saw this symbol on a body.” DCI Harold Bishop said. “It looks like The Sailor’s back.” His expression was of both horror and excitement. Nick knew what he was thinking; a damn shame the girl was dead but they got their second chance to catch the bastard who had tormented the streets of London, and on his watch.
“I never thought I would see this again,” Nick said as he pulled the sheet back over her face. It was surreal. The Sailboat symbol had not been seen in so long that he had put it and the killer in the back of his mind. A bid to pretend that the killer never existed. The Sailor belonged in history books and novels like Jack the Ripper. No longer a person but a stark reminder that you are not safe. You are never safe. If there was one thing The Sailor achieved it was to strike fear in people. A killer without a trace – a ghost that roamed the streets, taking the souls of women and vanishing – leaving only a memento which he carved into his victims.
There was no point in trying to compare the victim’s face to the photo Nick had of the missing girl, Sarah Fowler – he knew it was her by the colour of her hair and her eyes. This was not the way he wanted to find her. His ambition to reunite her with her mother alive and well was crushed.
Not being the one to inform her mother of her loss brought him some relief. He couldn’t stomach the look on her face. He thought back to when they spoke last; she was adamant her daughter was alive and out there somewhere. All they had to do was find her.
The guilt she would feel. The last time they saw each other they were at each other’s throats. She would blame the person who did this, blame the Police for not doing their jobs properly, but most of all, blame herself for allowing her daughter to storm out of the house, never to return. This could do anything to a person – push them to extremes on either side of the spectrum – from vigilante to suicide.
It never ended well. You could never wash blood with blood.
“We need to keep the press back and not let them clock onto what might be a victim of one of the worst serial killers London had seen.”
Nick wanted to correct him – London hadn’t seen him – no one had. The Sailor was no amateur, that was for sure. The killer who struck at night but with no patterns, no obvious selection process. Nothing to analyse, no scent to follow.
“Do you really think it’s The Sailor?” Zoe asked.
“You don’t?” Harold responded. His forehead creased, and his eyebrows almost met in the middle. Nick read Harold’s mind – dead girl, London, sailboat carved into the hand of the victim.
“Well?” Harold said impatiently.
“I am not sure it is The Sailor. When I looked through the cases on The Sailor and his victims, there were no obvious patterns except that they were all IC1 females. But there was a pattern of how he killed them.”
“Go on…” Harold said, his forehead now releasing.
“First of all, he was a perfectionist. He killed his victims calmly and with extreme precision. He slit their throats with a sharp knife and in a perfectly straight line, or he stabbed them accurately – not missing the vital organs. He took both pride and pleasure when killing his victims.” She stood from her crouching position and removed her gloves. “This was death by trauma to the head – violent, rage-filled – careless – even emotional. Not his style.”
“The sailboat signature?” Harold pointed out.
“The Sailor always carved the sailboat on the left hand of his victims — this is on the right hand.”
Harold nodded and sighed. “So, we might have a copycat.” He squeezed the back of his neck, “Good work,” he glanced at Nick with a look that said what Nick was thinking; she’s smart, damn smart. “I need to get back to the office and get things in order with the press release. I want you two to report to me,” he peered down to his wrist, “by 5 pm.”
The drive to the station was long. Zoe silently stared out of the window like a miserable child. She watched the world go by as if she no longer wanted any part of it. She was a fair few years younger than Nick and had that spark in her eye. The one that rookies wore like a badge. Before they saw all the bad shit. The shit you couldn’t unsee.
She would make a damn good DS, that was sure. Persistent and able to read between the lines. The problem, however, was, that was all she read, and this often got her into trouble. She spent so long reading in between the lines that she often overlooked the more obvious things – like procedures and rules.
Nick was her senior but at times it felt like she was the one calling the shots. Her tenacity was both her strength and weakness. She was a real shit magnet.
There were three significant problems with looking into things too deeply, which Zoe learned the hard way:
- Sometimes you dig so far that you lose your way.
- You don’t like what you find.
- You can’t prove what you find.
In the last case they worked on, she was so adamant that Harvey Morrison, another DC in the Met, was involved in an illegal drug smuggling operation, that she made accusations based on little evidence and a lot of assumptions. CPS threw the case out and Zoe’s reputation was disgraced.
Most of the department lost trust in her, and the DCI was pissed. He liked Zoe, she had a copper’s nose, but he suspended her for a week; more a formality and mercy than a punishment – let her lay low until the sting wore down.
She was ostracised – she had committed treason. Betrayed the sacred pact to not turn on her own and deserved to be exiled from the family.
Not many people would have stuck around – most would have left the department, asked for a transfer or even quit altogether but not Zoe – she refused to accept she did anything wrong. She was infuriated that no one believed her, which wasn’t the case, both the DCI and Nick thought she had something, it wasn’t a lot but something – the problem was in getting the evidence and following the proper procedures.
Harold made it clear she was not to investigate Harvey Morrison again and of the consequences if she made any more wild accusations. “You got off lightly!” he told her. She made no inane attempt to argue with his decision – forced to succumb that she had screwed up big time. Knowing you were right about something was never enough. Showing people the smoke meant nothing if you couldn’t show them the flames.
Nick thought to ask if she was OK but stopped himself – when a woman is upset the last thing you did was ask her if she is OK! The wise words of his wife – advice that he now lived by.
“You OK?” he asked unable to stop himself. There was a brief silence – not long enough for it to mean much but long enough for it to say something.
“I’m fine. You?”
“Look, it’s perfectly normal to be a little shaken up considering…”
She turned to face him, “Do I seem like the kind of person who gets shaken up easily?”
“What we saw back there was not easy, not for you and not for me.”
Silence filled the car. The uneasy image of the dead girl’s blue face flashed in his mind. Not that it left. Embedded in the fabric of all his thoughts – not allowing him to think about anything else.
“We let her down,” she spoke again. The words stabbed Nick in the chest, “We failed to find her in time.”
Regardless of how many murders or rapists you catch, no matter how many people you save, it is only the ones you lose that stick in your mind. They play with your emotions and make you feel worthless. And if you let them, they consume you entirely.
“We didn’t fail her,” Nick said, trying to convince himself, “We did what we could.”
Of course, there was more that could have been done – more time spent on questioning people, getting more aggressive with potential leads, re-reading through statements, watching thousands of hours of CCTV footage until your eyes bled, but when do you draw the line? You must draw the line somewhere or else it will be you who needs saving. A missing person was always a hard one. Resources are tight at the best of times, so telling loved ones that they were doing everything they could was a lie. A heart-breaking, disgusting, shameful lie. But also an unavoidable one. In a perfect world, the Police would have unlimited resources – much more manpower. But in a perfect world, they wouldn’t need it.
“There’s nothing we can do for her now except,” the unusual thought of saying “pray” sprung to his mind. He wasn’t sure why – perhaps deep down, he still had faith that there was a higher being. It would simplify things – make things make sense again. “Find her killer and nick him.” He continued. “Her family deserve to see justice for their daughter. It might help give them closure.”
The fact that she was found, though it be dead, would help the family through it – as cruel as it sounded, it was true. There was nothing worse than not knowing. Living every day with someone you love missing; perhaps in trouble, in pain, suffering. This was closure – she was suffering no more – knowing that was respite.
He never shared these sentiments with Zoe or anyone else. No one would understand, not the way he did.
He wanted to say something, anything. The silence was getting too loud, and he had opened compartments in his mind he shouldn’t have.
“What’s the rush?” Zoe said, but her voice seemed so faint that Nick questioned whether she said anything at all.
“You’re driving crazy! What’s the rush?”
He blinked a few times and then looked at the speedo – way faster than he should be going.
“Sorry,” he released his foot off the accelerator and loosened his grip on the steering wheel. His palms were sweaty, and for a moment, he forgot where he was going. He stopped at a junction and looked in all directions, confused.
“The station is just ahead.”
“I know,” he lied, “Thanks.”
“Are you alright?”
Of course, he wasn’t alright – what a stupid question!
He took a deep breath before responding, “I’m fine.” He wanted to scream but refrained — it wasn’t her fault, she didn’t know what happened.
It was better that way.
Sarah’s heart pounded hard enough to burst out of her chest. The urge to run for the exit overcame here but she felt paralysed.
There’s NO Bogeyman! She screamed silently.
Get a grip! There’s no one here. Just her childhood anxiety back to haunt her. She was foolish to think she could ever escape it.
No noise – no one watching – NO bogeyman!
She was over it.
The noise emerged again, this time from behind a bookcase in the opposite direction of the exit. Her mind wasn’t playing tricks. There was a noise — a shuffle, heavy breathing. Someone or something was close by – hidden. The Bogeyman had escaped from under bed and had followed her here. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t be.
The noise emerged again.
Make for the exit and get to the corridor. Wait there until Elsa came back with Jerry. Tell them about the noise and let Jerry investigate. She imagined him storming towards the bookcase and turning back shaking his head, indicating there’s nothing there. They would laugh and joke about it. And she would leave looking like a fool – but she wouldn’t care.
The sound of loud breathing reminded her that she hadn’t moved. Her fantasising about Elsa and Jerry being here wasn’t changing the fact that she was still here – still alone. No one to help her – no one to hear her scream.
The legs of her chair scraped on the floor. The more she tried to be quiet the more noises she made. Her breathing was noisy, her heartbeat drummed loudly, and her stomach moaned – all that remained was for her to scream – she didn’t.
Her legs suddenly had no bones, and she would soon flop to the floor. She glanced at the exit and then back at the tall bookcase.
What are you waiting for? Run for the exit! But something forbade her from escaping. Stopped her from running from her demons.
Her curiosity. Her bravery. Her stupidity.
She had seen enough horror movies to know not to investigate suspicious sounds yet found herself drifting towards the bookcase. To say she was not afraid would be a dreadful lie, she was terrified but needed to know who or what was there – prove, if only to herself, that all this was all in her mind. To face the monsters that plagued her childhood and beat them.
She imagined turning the corner of the bookcase and laughing at her foolishness when she saw nothing there but then immediately imagined the opposite.
A glimpse of her childhood flashed – the nights her parents rushed to find her screaming and covered in sweat.
She thought she had left that all in the past.
It was back… or this was something else entirely. Either way, she had to face her fears or spend the rest of her life living in the shadows of her past.
She paused as she approached the corner of the bookcase. The sound was now a continuous murmur of breathing and scrunching paper. She silently counted down.
She poked her head around the bookcase. Her heart thumped harder as she was saw someone sat on the floor with their back turned. She should be relieved that someone or something didn’t jump out on her but she could hardly breathe and felt the adrenaline leave her body. She recognised the faded blue hooded top.
Freak… the name shot to her mind. She hated herself for associating him like that. She had to think of his name.
“Norman…” she said faintly when it came to her. A lump formed in her throat and she felt as if she was swallowing glass.
He turned and looked at her – his face was red, a paper bag held up to his mouth that inflated and deflated as he inhaled and exhaled.
That explained the strange noise.
“You OK?” she asked. A stupid question – he didn’t look OK at all. But what else could she say? You look messed up… you unbalanced, maladjusted misfit. She couldn’t because it wouldn’t be socially unacceptable, politically incorrect and an accurate description of herself.
His eyes filled, ready to explode. He got to his feet and pushed passed her.
Sarah sat back at her desk not sure what to make of everything. She reflected on the days and nights she spent hunched over, breathing into a bag – she knew what he was going through. The lack of room, lack of air, lack of sense. The walls caving in, everyone’s eyes watching you and the pain that no one could know about.
She thought to go after him – imagined him in some dark corner of the building. Gasping for air, trying to block out the noise. She would place her hand on his shoulder and tell him everything will be alright, though she knew it wouldn’t be.
“Sorry about that,” Elsa’s voice emerged making Sarah jump. She hadn’t heard her come back in. “Are you OK, my love?” Elsa asked with a suspicious look, “You’ve lost the colour in your face.”
Sarah smiled but didn’t say anything.
“Jerry’s fixing the printer and we’ll get your print requests for you in a jiffy.”
Sarah glanced at Jerry who had already opened the side panel of the printer and had his head almost completely inside. She then looked at the door.
“Did you see…” she paused. She stopped herself from asking about the strange guy wearing a faded blue hooded top and a bag over his mouth. She stopped herself from asking if she knew which direction he went in because she didn’t want to know. Didn’t want the temptation to go after him and pretend she could help him. She couldn’t – she couldn’t help herself. All she would do is make things worse.
“See what?” Elsa asked curiously looking in the direction of the door.
“Nothing,” she said and then began packing her bag. She desperately wanted to get out. Elsa was giving her the look her mother gave her when she wanted answers. Accusing, condescending.
“Yes, I need to go.” She clutched her bag and headed for the exit.
“But what about your prints?” Elsa asked from behind.
Sarah didn’t respond. She could feel Jerry’s gaze as she marched to the exit but didn’t look in his direction. As she stormed out of the doors, she rested her back against the wall and gasped. The wall was cold and shivers rippled through her. Her chest tightened. Her fingers were numb and a surge of pins and needles run through them. She needed a large hole to appear in the ground and suck her in – induce her into a long peaceful sleep from which she would never wake.
She staggered through the deserted corridor, her legs unable to carry her. Her spine barely able to support her weight.
There was no one in sight but she could feel a presence. Someone, something looming over here like an enormous shadow. Fast approaching footsteps behind her.
She tried to run but her legs were unresponsive – like being trapped in a dream where you try to run but don’t go anywhere. The footsteps accelerated. They were heavy and echoed. Someone was now right behind her. This wasn’t a dream – she felt body heat emanating from whoever or whatever was behind her.
Instinctively, she turned and swung her bag. Letting out a scream as she struck someone hard on the head.
“Jesus Christ!” A man’s voice yelled out in pain.
Sarah put her hands over her mouth. Her vision cleared and she saw Jerry lying on the ground and sheets of paper scattered next to him.
“I’m so sorry,” She knelt and tried to help him up. She didn’t know how much she would help as the room was spinning around her.
“What’s wrong with you kids these days!” Jerry said holding his head.
“I really am sorry.” And she meant every word. He was trying to be helpful. He clearly got the printer to work and chased after her to give her the printouts and this is how being helpful was repaid. A hard blow to the head.
“Sarah!” Melisa’s voice emerged. “Are you OK? What happened?”
“Your friend just clobbered me over the head with her bag! That’s what happened.”
“Leave her alone, you creep!” Melisa said as she picked up Sarah’s bag and the scattered paper. It was just like Melisa to take her side even when she was wrong. Poor Jerry, probably suffered a possible concussion. The look Melisa gave him was enough for him to silently walk away.
“Are you alright?” Melisa asked as she handed Sarah her bag and then scanned the papers. “Mr Andrew Wingrove?” Her eyebrows raised.
“It’s… it’s not what it looks like.”
“Fine… it’s exactly what it looks like.” Sarah chuckled.
“Hey, I aint judging,” Melisa said, “All is fair in love and war… and bloody assignments!”
Like a loyal bodyguard, Melisa stayed by Sarah’s side for the rest of the day. And although at any other time Sarah would have found this stifling, today she was grateful.
No idea why she was on edge but something shook her insides. She couldn’t explain the feeling. Fear of falling, fear of something falling on her. Loud noises. Crowded places – empty places. Fear around every corner. Fear. Fear. Fear.
At points, she could not hear what Melisa was saying – her voice and the noises from the SU bar became a hum. Strange thoughts and anxieties consumed her to the extent she was unable to process anything. The clunks of metal cutlery clashing with ceramic, glasses crashing on tables and loud chatter and laughter echoed in the distance. The uneasy feeling of being watched.
“So, what do you think?” Melisa asked.
“Erm… sorry, I didn’t catch that.” Sarah was suddenly beamed back to reality.
“The Square? What you think?”
Melisa rolled her eyes, “The Square, the restaurant, two amazing chefs, Clément Leroy and Aya Tamura?”
“Sounds…” She wanted to say expensive, like an average poor person, like what her mother would say when selecting a place to eat. Like what she was used to before she became friends with Melisa. “Amazing.” She smiled.
“Great! That’s settled then.”
It was no use asking her if they should confer with rest of the gang; if Melisa and Sarah had agreed on something then it was as good as finalised. Jane and Talisha would just accept the place and be grateful they wouldn’t have to fork out the bill.
Melisa put her phone on the table and faced Sarah.
“You know what you need,”
Go home, have a warm bath and get into bed. Exactly what she needed and wanted.
“Some retail therapy.” Her eyes were glowing like headlights of a truck.
“What?” Sarah almost choked on air. The last thing on her mind was to stroll around shops looking for clothes – that was not therapy, that was torture.
“I’m serious. Let’s go shopping and get some new rags. We’ll need something nice to wear for later anyway.”
Sarah looked at Melisa’s to die for Lela Rose seamed midi dress under the Louis Vuitton A-line coat and the star trail ankle boots.
Is there an upgrade to that?
She then thought about the Primark jeans and coat she brought from Next, 2 years ago in the sale and suddenly, the penny dropped.
This wasn’t the first time Melisa took Sarah shopping but this was the first time they went shopping for clothes. Sarah had no idea why people spent so much money on clothes – for her, £60 on a dress was a relatively big spend but in the shops, Melisa was taking her, £60 could just about get you a pair of socks.
“Melisa,” Sarah stopped outside Harrods, “I can’t really afford anything in here and―”
“Say no more, girlfriend, I got your back,” She waved her credit card in the air like a magic wand. As if by waving this thing around, all the problems in the world would be zapped away.
“I can’t have you pay for everything – it’s not fair.”
“I’m offended!” Melisa’s smile dropped.
“No.” Her smile resurfaced. “Besides, you paid for the coffee the other day. You know, when we went to that new Coffee Cup. What was its name again?”
“No, actually you did; like you always do.” Sarah couldn’t believe she was complaining about someone paying for everything. She should just stay quiet and enjoy the ride, it’s not like this could last forever, could it?
“Come on Sarah, it’s just some clothes.”
“Clothes that are equivalent to a month’s rent!”
“You’re right,” Melisa said, her face now serious, “I tell you what we’ll do. After we’ve worn the clothes tonight, we’ll get them dry cleaned and donate them to charity – will that make you feel better?”
Sarah felt her eyes rolling, “I don’t think people in third-world countries will care about Prada.”
Melisa placed her palms on Sarah’s shoulders and stared deep into her eyes, “Honey, everyone cares about Prada!”
They both burst out laughing.
“Now, come on – I heard there is a new Louis Vuitton collection out.”
Melisa marched through the store as if she were walking into a supermarket to get her groceries. Sarah, on the other hand, felt entirely out of place. She wasn’t used to the glamour or all the extra zeros on the price tags. She didn’t even like the new fashion trends – she liked things basic, minimalistic, simple. Extravagance just drew attention and she did not want to draw attention. She was happy to disappear into the crowd, blend into the background – journey through life unnoticed.
As she observed Melisa glide through the store, an uneasy sensation overwhelmed her. She couldn’t describe it, even to herself. Her eyes shot from side to side. Was someone watching her? She saw no one out of the ordinary. Happy shoppers, window shoppers, shopping assistants and security staff. Exactly who you would expect.
Relax… you’re in a safe place… she reminded herself. There was no one watching. She shook her head and laughed at her vanity. The audacity to think she was important enough for someone to follow?
She glanced at Melisa, the beautiful, bright and bubbly billionaire. If anyone were to be stalked, it would be her. Not the little old Primark model from nowhere. What could she have that anyone would possibly want? Nothing. This was her being her. Sarah Fowler – the train wreck.
But regardless of how much she mocked herself, she couldn’t shake off the feeling.
Was someone watching her?